Mike Bivins footage
A brawl breaks out at an Aug. 9 rally between Patriot Prayer and leftist protestors at Waterfront Park in Portland, Oregon.
Violence, of one kind or another, tends to follow Joey Gibson, a Maria Cantwell opponent and leader of the controversial Patriot Prayer group. Gibson is speaking at Centerplace in Spokane Valley on Sunday at a "Freedom First Rally
Mike Bivins photo
Joey Gibson at Evergreen State College — he says he got pepper sprayed and hit with a soda can
And that has people on the left worried.
"His events attract people who are really interested in violence and who are explicitly white supremacists," says Liz Moore, director of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS). "Local community folks are actively bringing him here, knowing full well what happens at his events."
Meanwhile, people on the right are cautious as well.
"I'm not going to talk to any media about this event," says Lesley Haskell, one of the event's organizers and wife of Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell. "It's too controversial and politically dangerous. I'm sure you can understand."
Initially, there was going to be a march along with the indoor rally at Centerplace, but the march has been canceled, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich confirms.
Patriot Prayer has a strategy of marching into left-wing strongholds, like Portland, Seattle, Evergreen State College and Berkeley, California — where violence often ensues.
called up Mike Bivins, a Portland-area freelance journalist who's live streamed the clashes between Patriot Prayer and left-wing groups, to try to understand why Gibson has such a dangerous reputation.
"On the surface, he doesn't come off as a really hardcore extremist or anything," says Bivins. "He doesn’t really give that impression."
Gibson's stated beliefs are a complicated muddle — when he announced as a U.S. Senate candidate the left-wing Stranger
describes his platform as "basically Alex Jones meets Bernie Sanders
"He’s super into free speech..." Bivins says. "The real concern is in that whole free-speech-let-us-be-heard-thing, anybody can show up."
And that anyone can include legitimate white supremacists. Last year, that included Identity Evropa, the hate group behind the recent spate of
white supremacist posters in downtown Spokane and local college campuses.
"All these sketchy people show up to these rallies," Bivins says. "So anything can happen."
One rally attendee was a guy named Jeremy Christian, later accused of stabbing three men on a Portland light rail train.
Gibson, however, points out that Christian was asked to leave after spouting racist rhetoric
In the conservative Weekly Standard's
profile of Gibson, "A Beating in Berkeley," conservative writer Matt LaBash suggested that as white supremacists go, Gibson is a "lousy one," noting that Gibson is half Japanese and explicitly tried to bar “Nazis, communists, KKK, antifa
, white supremacists . . . or white nationalists” from his "Liberty Weekend" event last year before it was canceled."
He sometimes explicitly condemns Nazis
and white supremacists, but they still flock to his rally.
While Patriot Prayer sometimes cloaks itself in religious terminology, many of the right-wing attendees at their rallies aren't exactly taking a turn-the-other-cheek-approach.
"Some of the right-wing people are coming for a fight," Bivins says. "They’ll show up in body armor. Helmets."
At times when left wing and anti-fascist groups are similarly ready for combat, violence can explode.
"It's clear to me that both parties know what they’re getting into when they get together," Bivins says.
He's seen one-punch knockouts, faces get pepper sprayed and skateboards being wielded as weapons.
"People on both sides just get beat down. It’s just brutal to watch. Frankly, I’m surprised that nobody’s been killed out there," Bivins says. "I’m thankful that nobody’s been killed in downtown Portland."
Mike Bivins photo
Patriot Prayer memmber Tusitala “Tiny” Toese nurses injuries after a protest last year
Typically, Bivins says, Gibson isn't the one throwing the punches. His hulking, 6-foot-6 wingman, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese
, does most of the fighting. In August, Toese was arrested for disorderly conduct after a violent rally
"I saw another [altercation] where a group of right-wingers was standing around a dude, kicking the shit out of him," Bivins says. "They’re literally kicking the shit out of this left-winger. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life."
Recently, however, the violence between Patriot Prayer and other groups have seemed to have ebbed somewhat.
"At the last rallies, they’ve been rather docile, relatively speaking," Bivins says.
Sheriff Knezovich says his office is prepared to make sure violence doesn't break out at the event Sunday.
“I’m not going to tell you what we have exactly on site of that event. But it will be very covered,” Knezovich says. "I have made it very clear to both sides of this coin, that I don’t care what side does what. If you break the law, we are going to arrest you.”
Gibson's strategy, Bivins says, is to put himself out as bait.
"Oftentimes the people who despise him do take the bait," Bivins says.
Gibson, Bivins suggests, often wants
clashes. It works as free advertising for their group. He's intentionally provocative, trying to goad the left into violence, Bivins suggests. Gibson claims he's showing the left for what they really are.
"It’s like drawing a foul in basketball," Bivins says.
But in Spokane, counter-protesters are intentionally taking steps to avoid violence. Instead of holding a big counter-protest at Centerplace on Sunday, in Spokane Valley, the protestors will be at Spokane City Hall Sunday, miles away.
The "Solidarity in Spokane! Unite Against the Far-Right!" rally is being put on by the Spokane Democratic Socialists of America and Socialist Alternative Spokane.
"Our community does NOT stand for this nonsense," the Facebook event invite
says. "Join us at City Hall for a solidarity rally and picnic against nationalism, Patriot Prayer, and the far-right!"
Moore, with PJALS, stresses that it's crucial that the community stand up against Gibson and the element he attracts.
"Our community is diverse and full of people who are seen as less than human by the people he attracts," Moore says. "It’s unacceptable to increase the risk to marginalized members of our community, to put folks in fear based on their race and religion."